The box office brushoff

'Messengers' tops weak weekend

Biz for most pics, whether wide studio holdovers or Oscar hopefuls, went slip-sliding away over the Super Bowl weekend as ticket sales dropped sharply from the same frame a year ago.

After winning the past six straight Super Bowl weekends at the B.O. by rolling out horror and genre fare, Sony succeeded again with the same strategy, taking the No. 1 spot with supernatural pic “The Messengers.”

Movie — from the studio’s genre arm, Screen Gems, and production banner Ghost House — led a soft frame at the movies overall.

“Messengers” scared up $14.5 million off 2,528 engagements for a per-location average of $5,736. A year ago, the studio’s “When a Stranger Calls” dialed up $21 million-plus over the same frame.

Hoping to continue its scary winning streak, Sony has already slated slasher pic “Prom Night” for next year’s Super Bowl frame.

While many Oscar films saw respectable drops in the 30% range, none were igniting the B.O. at a time of year when distributors really look to build biz for such pics.

A year ago, the gay-themed “Brokeback Mountain” roped in $6 million in its ninth frame during Super Bowl weekend. This weekend’s best-performing Oscar hopeful was urban musical “Dreamgirls,” which took in an estimated $4 million in its eighth frame.

One bright spot came for foreign-language fare: The distribs behind “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Volver” all had reasons to cheer as Warner Bros.’ “Letters” expanded with a slight drop and the other two pics earned their way into the B.O. record books.

Picturehouse’s “Labyrinth” became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film released in the U.S., passing “Like Water for Chocolate” with a cume of $21.7 million.

Pic landed in the No. 8 spot after expanding to become the distrib’s widest rollout ever, at 1,082, and reeling in $3.6 million.

And Sony Classics’ “Volver,” from Spanish helmer Pedro Almodovar, became the helmer’s top-grossing film, taking in $885,012 off 587 screens to bring cume to $10.2 million, passing that of “Talk to Her.”

Marquee titles

Trailing in second place was Universal’s counterprogrammer “Because I Said So.” Multigenerational chick pic, starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, picked up $13 million off 2,526, scoring $5,155 per engagement.

“Messengers” and “Said So” repped the frame’s only new wide releases.

Fox’s “Epic Movie” — last frame’s No. 1 — landed in third in its second frame, with $8.2 million off 2,840. Spoof of movies dropped 56% from its opening weekend and has cumed $29.3 million to date.

Studio’s “Night at the Museum” stayed strong in fourth to bring cume to $225.3 million. Supernatural sensation, starring Ben Stiller, has been in theaters for seven weeks.

Overall, ticket sales dipped almost a full $10 million from a year ago among the frame’s top 10 titles, down to $66.5 million.

Kudo contenders

Among best pic nominees, Warner Bros. war epic “Iwo Jima” expanded to 720 theaters and fired up $1.74 million to raise cume to $7.5 million. Per-location average was $2,423, down 6.6% from the previous frame.

Studio’s “The Departed,” which it relaunched last frame as a wide release, slipped almost 31% over Super Bowl weekend, with a per-playdate average of just $1,600 off 1,453.

Paramount Vantage’s “Babel” dropped 32% from last weekend, taking in an estimated $1.7 million in its 15th week of release. Per-location average, from 1,090, hit $1,587.

And Miramax’s “The Queen” was down 32% after 19 weeks but managed to stay in the top 10. Pic has cumed $45.5 million.

Sony’s inspirational drama “The Pursuit of Happyness” was off 38% after eight weeks. Will Smith starrer has played to $157.3 million domestically.

Paramount and DreamWorks’ “Dreamgirls” dipped 40% in its eighth week of release to take in $4 million, lifting its cume to $92 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland,” Oscar-nominated for lead actor Forest Whitaker, dipped 23% from the previous frame. Pic has taken in $9.6 million after 19 weeks and expanded to 528 locations.

Searchlight’s “Notes on a Scandal” dropped 32% from last weekend, taking in $1.7 million to raise cume to $11.7 after six weekends.

Not all current releases in the Oscar ring dipped; some made modest gains in limited release.

Miramax’s “Venus,” with a best actor nom for Peter O’Toole, moved up 10.5%, taking in $380,000 off 96 in its platform release. Pic has been in theaters for seven weeks.

New Line’s “Little Children” saw biz bump slightly to $244,000 from $207,349 the previous frame. Cume is $4.4 million after 18 weeks.

And don’t forget…

Away from the Oscar race, U’s shoot-’em-up “Smokin’ Aces” dipped 57% in its second frame, taking in $6.3 million to raise cume to almost $25 million and landing in the fifth spot.

MGM’s newly bowed “Factory Girl” had a strong play in just three engagements. Pic drew up $95,291 for a per-screen average of $31,764.

“Girl,” from the Weinstein Co., stars Sienna Miller as Andy Warhol’s ill-fated cohort Edie Sedgwick.

Some studio holdovers, meanwhile, had a tough time clinging on at all.

Up against the female-skewing “Said So,” Sony’s Jennifer Garner starrer “Catch and Release” slid a steep 65%, right off the top 10 charts.

And trying to bite into “Messengers,” MGM’s werewolf pic “Blood and Chocolate’s” life ended with a whimper: In its second frame, biz dropped more than 70% for an anemic $509 per-playdate average off 1,200.

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